Ecological Bodies: North American Practices of Care in a Changing Climate
What kinds of care are required in a world struggling with mass migrations, rising sea levels, biodiversity loss, and what some call “total systems collapse”? My ethnographic fieldwork attends to this question through the ways that herbal medicine practitioners are developing and implementing practices to sustain individual bodies, communities, plants and landscapes. I suggest these are efforts to re-figure what an ethics of care might be—one which includes humans in scope with broader ecologies. Further, I suggest that such efforts serve to make concrete visions of possible futures in this moment of climate change. I argue that herbalists have developed an emergent mode of being which is well suited to addressing the anxieties of late-capitalist America.
By engaging with herbalist communities’ practices of care as they prepare for the world’s emergent risks to health and ecological wellbeing, I draw together social and natural scientific analyses of preparation for a risky future, offering scholars across humanist disciplines a new way of thinking about knowledges and practices for unknown futures. Moving beyond co-production and entanglement as ways of thinking about humans in their environments, my work takes up my interlocutors’ call to understand humans as part of nature. I interrogate what it means to understand human bodies as inextricably woven into their ecologies, and the potential consequences of that understanding for socialities and politics, thereby opening up a deeper consideration of what it means to live well on earth in this particular moment.
That’s the gist of it. I’ll talk a lot about plants and humans, how they interact with one another, and how herbalists teachings about engaging with plants can tell us something about what “better” might look like on this warming planet.
I won’t talk as much, in the dissertation, about some other things which are equally important to me. In articles, book chapters, and other publications (including this space!) I’ll talk more about the explicit and detailed ways that understanding intersectional oppressions is necessary for “better,” in herbalist communities, in rural Vermont, across the United States, and beyond. For instance, in my 2015 article in “Resilience,” I offer a loving critique of resilience, suggesting that it’s too future oriented to be able to address already-existing pressing issues of social and environmental justice issues. You can see a more updated, more in-depth version of that piece in The Routledge Handbook of International Resilience.
Check out the short entry I wrote on “Care” at Cultural Anthropology’s project, Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen. Mine and the other entries take up a call to consider particular elements of this moment/epoch that is now officially called The Anthropocene (goodbye, Holocene!).
As my dissertation-writing wraps up, I hope to turn my attention to a variety of other writing projects: on “the symptom” and how it is read in holistic medicine; on the ways that whiteness manifests in natural/holistic health communities; on the impacts of race on herbal practices in the U.S.. On what it means, more specifically and complexly, to care across species in a moment of climate change; on the ways that herbalists working in sliding scale or “free” clinics are developing integrated, small scale “new economies” by offering payment options that extend far beyond the US dollar, and how they think about what “exchange” means. On how affects or feelings get tangled up in the landscapes and ecologies we live with and inhabit, and how things like solar panels, hand scythes, and managed forests play into our abilities to feel certain ways with certain places.
There’s much more to say, and I hope you’ll join me in talking around these issues and sharing your own work, thoughts, questions, and more.